Yamaguchi Momoe © Zhang Wei
Article by Roxana Florina Popa
Works of the Chinese artist, Zhang Wei, are part of the Prudential Eye Awards Exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Marking the Singapore Art Week in January 2016 and showcasing a diverse range of works from 15 shortlisted artists for the 2016 Prudential Eye Awards, the works in the exhibition explore unique themes of Asian history, culture and environment.
In Statement on Artificial Theater, the artist explains: “In real life, people who are eager for success often get frustrated by failures; however, the virtual network game can bring players through identities a successful experience. The game starts from a basic identity “people”, for whom you can set the gender, the general shape, and the personality. Likewise, I virtualized the identities in Temporary Performers and used them in an exaggerated way to create myth-like roles for the new series. By diluting the performers’ original identities I made their performances more absurd.“
Inspired by a Japanese artificial computer game “Artificial Girl 3”, which was a 3D 18X love game created by ILLUSION and tempted to explore the aesthetics of the cultural bottom line, Zhang Wei began creating a world of virtual characters.
INTERVIEW with the Artist Zhang Wei
Roxana-Florina Popa: What is the inspiration behind the project?
Zhang Wei: All my works are about humanity: as a member of the most sophisticated creatures in the world, I tend to learn the influence imposed on the world by people more deeply. The body, as the outside of a man and any gesture can affect the world. What is partially neglected by us can reflect the truth.
I’d like to bestow my works with ineffable unease through the morbidity disguised in health, through the helplessness, dread and anxiety revealed from the poker face. Many inharmonious things combine naturally. Through the tampered and processed images, I’m enjoining people so that everyone is playing his or her own role in society, but after all, it is superficial and temporary, or even meaningless. These landscape images imply a morbid representation of contemporary Chinese people. The morbidity can’t effortlessly be detected in reality, and it is concealed in the depth of the spirit of the whole mankind.
The Leader Vladimir Putin © Zhang Wei
RFP: Who are the theater performers?
ZW: I’ve been collecting the material for portrait photos every year since 2007. Now more than a thousand of people’s photos have been kept in my database. The most of the temporary performers were found before the gate of Beijing Film Studio. They were a crowd of unfamiliar people to me. While shooting, about 10 people were taken by my camera at the beginning. Putting on makeup, taking photos, they seemed to be very much enjoying this easy and relaxed job. So, they told each other and more and more people came here later. I took photos of everyone who came here. Putting on makeup, dressing the cheap clothes, chatting with me initiatively, they were full of curiosity with my idea of the photo. But I avoided communicating too much with them as far as possible, for I wanted to show a sense of distance and strangeness. It looked like a miniature society and seemed as a disaster to me every time they gathered together.
The Leader Aung San Suu Kyi © Zhang Wei
RFP: What is more interesting for you in doing photographic portraits: the aesthetics, the body acting or the spirit caught in a particular circumstance?
ZW: My works are based on group images. Artificial Theater, in its way, is intended to render people’s spiritual vandalisation of themselves in reality. A group is composed of individuals, so when I extrude and bind hundreds of individual images, they form a concrete symbolic image, and the personal traits of individuals are assimilated in the group. Individuals have extraordinary variability in this constantly changing era, often magnified, segregated, abstracted and digested, and therefore, they are out of recognition. To put it simply, I intend to talk about the collective unconsciousness of history, for which every one of us is responsible.
There is a possibility of “forged reality” in photography. Reality is a perceptual feedback on the real world of everyone. There is no sole, standard reality, but only multiple, abundant “feeling and experience”.
Big Star John Lennon © Zhang Wei
In terms of “experience”, a photographer is unable to have “quick and effective reaction” to the “perceptual” experience in a photograph – that is, unable to reach the essence of reality; however, he or she can make good generalisation, refinement and remedy to reality through a photograph.
RFP: Are common people acting less when being taken a photo? What happens when their acting meets a personality’s body?
ZW: I keep a sense of strangeness with the subjects as much as possible while shooting. Common people have the feeling of exclusion against the camera, so their photos look unnatural, but that is the situation that I want. I don’t make the subjects’ similarity with the celebrities, but record a quantity of faces while shooting.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone © Zhang Wei
RFP: Do you completely remove the spirit of personalities when replacing it with the characteristics of common people? Is there any chance for both spirits and bodies to meet and exchange? What happens with the spirit of personalities after being replaced?
ZW: I restore a specific figure with the features of common people through computer virtualization. To make the characters integrated with the status of a theater performer, the celebrities and everyone familiar are not the carriers of soul and spirit again. I choose them without value tendency, no matter whether they are politicians or entertainment stars, they are only cultural icons. I suppose to get them a feeling of materialised variation and enlarge it into my works, trying to explore the meaning of truth and fiction, real and virtual. Though it’s an assumption, it’s a real art experience.
Leonardo DiCaprio © Zhang Wei
RFP: What is the significance of spirit and face in your “Artificial Theater”?
ZW: The models I shoot are in a period of dramatic national ideology changes, public images turn on the stage batch after batch, becoming the populace spiritual pillar. At the same time, idol culture is not a strange thing to them at all. As the pure code material derived from the authentic natural person, these features are just in order to form the final spectacle. But these image material providers never thought they could become the tall public image which stands in front of audiences. Despite the image being not so realistic, which they also don’t know, the material of Artificial Theater is the pain point to avoid in this age.
Shinzō Abe © Zhang Wei
RFP: Does the common people’s spirit choose the body of personalities or vice versa?
ZW: In this series, I choose the image, although there is no ideological evaluation. They are symbols with a strong sense of transcendental meaning to the majority of people. It’s difficult to digest. In fact, the source of those body parts are in the form of images, so the artificial character is regarded as the embodier of collective consciousness on some people.
RFP: What is the technical challenge?
ZW: At the beginning, it was very difficult to create each of them. The most difficult point is the mental state of these characters. I found that it was not necessary to be very close to the prototype, but to grasp the expression. I have selected mostly Western characters. Their nose is narrow and high. They have deep eyes. Their chin contour is prominent. But the materials are mostly oriental faces. The face is flat. The chin contour is not obvious, and the nose is not high. Therefore, to solve the face differences is the most difficult problem. Of course, the process of solving problems is most challenging and interesting.
George Walker Bush © Zhang Wei
RFP: What is the effect of the transformation? Who is Putin or Lennon with a common person’s spirit?
ZW: I think this conversion method make viewers painful and happy, because the discourse situation of common people is hard to be identified. They can put the non-inspection, transcendent common points on the myth image and pray for a beautiful vision, although this could not produce a hallucinogenic thrill, indeed. If we recognise the result with the feelings logic of “true”, “like” while criticizing the consumers, the image of these and our judgment would turn out to be an absurd conclusion.
William Bradley Pitt © Zhang Wei
RFP: What is the message of the “Artificial Theatre”?
ZW: Many times of renovation of this series have become its monument. It’s the coding arrangement unable to be distinguished when you hold up on it. Countless identity reorganization and collage made the second-hand myth. An invisible and untouchable discourse world is formed and zero discourse power in lower real space is always what we don’t want to mention. Artificial Theatre has displayed all of these. Artificial Theatre is the work finished by the viewers, also it is the discourse power striving and the political presentation way of mine.
Special Thanks go to the artist and W Communications in Singapore
Roxana Florina Popa is the author and self-publisher of the book “Beauty Elegance Creativity – 12 Interviews on the Act of Creation“